As a 501 (c)(5) organization, the Northern International Livestock Exposition (NILE) has long worked to promote western heritage and appreciation through youth education. The NILE’s 4th Grade Ag Education program is one way the stock show organization prepares today’s youth to be tomorrow’s agriculture advocates.
“In a nutshell, this program is our way to reach out to youth at that age where they are so inquisitive,” explained Bonnie DeVerniero, head of the NILE’s 4th Grade Ag Education Program.
Traditionally, the program is very hands-on oriented. Local students come to the MetraPark during the NILE stock show and get to be face-to-face with livestock or are able to put their hands right in the dirt. DeVerniero points out, for many students, even though they live in Montana, the 4th Grade Ag Education program may be the first time they are ever actually face-to-face with production agriculture.
Like many other aspects of the 2020 NILE stock show, the 4th Grade Ag Education program is going to look a little different this year due to the coronavirus as social distancing requirements have forced the event to be held exclusively online.
“We will be bringing this program to a virtual platform so teachers can still bring the information to the students, but we just can’t do it in person this year,” DeVerniero said.
The program is slated to become available Oct. 1. The pre-recorded lessons can be accessed on the NILE’s website and since the content is not live-recorded, it can be accessed repeatedly and at any time it is convenient.
DeVerniero pointed out, this program truly is a collaboration between the NILE and such entities as Sunshine Apiary, Yellowstone County 4-H, MSU Extension, Musselshell/Golden Valley Extension, Montana Cattlewomen’s Association, Yellowstone County Weed District and Yellowstone County Conservation District. Without their help and contributions the program would not be possible.
Since the program will be virtual this year, the NILE will be adding a new and exciting collaborator to help out, as well.
“We actually received permission from the Peterson Farm Brothers to use some of their parodies, so we are going to incorporate some of their fun songs that bring such a great light to the farming world,” she said.
On average, the 4th Grade Ag Education program reaches about 2,000 students from the Billings area. Although that is a respectable number, the NILE appreciates the fact there are people all across the state who are becoming further and further removed from agriculture. Changing the program to be totally virtual has been challenging, but it also offers an opportunity to impact even more youth.
“Now we are going to get to broaden our scope. Before we have been limited by time and the number of kids we can have here on grounds, so this allows us to go statewide, if not further,” DeVerniero stated.
The thought of reaching potentially thousands more students and using the power of technology to teach aspiring ag-vocates is very exciting and uplifting, attests DeVerniero. The NILE’s 4th Grade Ag Education program is just one of many youth ag education programs out there and DeVerniero says they are looking forward to making a larger impact.
The other great thing about moving the program to online is the educational content can be easily accessed by anyone, not just teachers and students enrolled in school. With many students today participating in distance learning, learning about agriculture is now only one click away.
The 2020 NILE 4th Grade Ag Education program will be available on Oct. 1 through the NILE website at www.thenile.org.